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11 must-try pop-ups, the next generation of L.A. dining

A man sits on concrete steps, smiling.
Brandon Gray is the owner and chef of Brandoni Pepperoni, based in Mid-City.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
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Takeout projects, social media-based microbusinesses, collaborations between bricks-and-mortar restaurants and independent operators, underground events. The term “pop-up” has become a catch-all phrase. It encompasses the many ways that chefs feed customers outside traditional restaurant models and mobile setups such as food trucks.

In 2020’s darkest COVID-19 pandemic months, laid-off, furloughed and otherwise unemployed chefs and dining room staff started pop-ups as a means of survival. They posted menu options on social media feeds, took orders via DM and accepted payment through mobile services.

As with everything, the takeout subculture is evolving. When sit-down dining stabilized in 2021, many chefs returned to restaurants, catering or private dinners. Some successful pop-ups — among them Jihee Kim’s Perilla L.A., with its astonishing array of banchan, and Quarter Sheets, the fantastic Detroit-style pizza and “slab cake” mashup from Aaron Lindell and Hannah Ziskin — have restaurants in the works. Other up-and-comers resumed as weekly vendors to Smorgasburg L.A., the city’s great incubator of culinary talent.

And some pop-ups continue apace, seeding the next generation of Los Angeles dining even in their mercurial nature. These 11 favorites point the way forward.

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A’s BBQ

A platter with a variety of meats and sides
A platter of Un Poquito de Todo — a little bit of everything — from A’s BBQ in East Los Angeles.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Every other weekend or so, Alan Cruz sets up in an East L.A. driveway. The people in a line trailing into the street are waiting for the masterfully smoked meats he dubs “Chicago barbecue”: wobbly, peppery, near-perfect brisket; spare ribs rubbed with piloncillo and coffee and glazed with tamarind; and cochinita pibil that smells like campfire and chimes with citrus. Sometimes he changes it up and makes righteous, oniony smash burgers. eastlossoulbarbecue.com

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Bungkus Bagus

White boxes that each hold rainbow bar desserts and brown bar desserts.
Bungkus Bagus’ Jajan Passar dessert sampler.
(Bungkus Bagus)

The demand for bungkus — Balinese-style meals bundled in banana leaves — made by sisters Celene and Tara Carrara is real. Online orders usually go live at 6 p.m. Mondays; set an alert or you’ll likely miss out for the week. An orb of coconut rice perfumed with lemongrass and pandan leaves anchors the bungkus, which also includes chicken curry, egg, long beans and tempeh cake. instagram.com/bungkusbagusla

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Brandoni Pepperoni

Hands in black rubber gloves place toppings on a pizza.
Brandon Gray of Brandoni Pepperoni makes his Windsor Hills pizza in the kitchen at Mooby’s at West Hollywood Gateway.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

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For his pizzas, Brandon Gray combines Italian and local Tehachapi Grain Project flour for a tangy, almost nutty crust that’s cracker-y in places and puffed in others. True to the project’s name, the pepperoni pie is topnotch, but Gray really lets loose with creations such as the Californication: lamb shoulder, chickpeas, thick salsa borracha, Oaxacan cheese and pickled red onion. Pickups are in Mid-City. brandoni-pepperoni.com

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Bridgetown Roti

Two halves of a roti wrap stacked one upon the other
Roti wrap from Bridgetown Roti.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Rashida Holmes focuses on the flavors of her Bajan heritage with her Arts District-based pop-up (and regularly at Smorgasburg L.A. on Sundays). Her specialty is flaky roti, filled with her mom’s recipe for chicken curry, a vegan-friendly version featuring a tumble of seasonal vegetables or, best of all, soft, ropy hunks of goat meat she buys from Jimenez Family Farms. She’s always trying out new dishes too: Look out for her macaroni and cheese pie. bridgetownroti.com

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De Porres

Caramel poundcake, Peruvian chicken stew, ganache tart, summer salad and vegan beet and avocado causa from De Porres
The menu from De Porres includes, clockwise from right, Grace’s caramel poundcake, Peruvian chicken stew, ganache tart, summer salad and vegan beet and avocado causa.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

After delivering weekly meals during the pandemic-related shutdowns, Danielle Bell and Pablo Osorio are returning to De Porres’ original premise: pop-up dinners that synergize the specialties of Osorio’s native Peru with desserts and baking that hearkens to Bell’s Kentucky upbringing. There may also be appearances at the Hollywood Farmers Market, where Bell will showcase her take on nutty, boozy Nesselrode Bula ice cream. I can always cross my fingers for her ethereal biscuits too. de-porres.com

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Golden Rice Co.

A plate of rice served over chicken and finished with dried barberries
A plate of rice served over chicken and finished with dried barberries from Golden Rice Co.
(Silvia Razgova / For The Times)

Saffron saturates Farah Parsa’s variation on the traditional Iranian dish tahchin — almost silky from the addition of yogurt and domed with tahdig, the crisp layer of rice formed on the bottom of the pot. Additions of eggplant, chicken or salmon are optional. Complete the meal (available for pickup or limited delivery on Sundays) with mast-o-khiar, hummus, chopped salad and ghormeh sabzi, the kidney bean-flecked stew alive with herbs. It’s rare to experience food that tastes like Iranian home cooking out in the world. Now’s your chance. instagram.com/goldenriceco

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Khemla

Mushroom larb with fermented fish paste, herbs, mushrooms and toasted rice powder
Mushroom larb with fermented fish paste, herbs, mushrooms and toasted rice powder from Khemla.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Phert Em, previously general manager of Bar Amá, originally called her pop-ups “L.A. Cambodian food,” adapting Khmer dishes she learned from her family to her own taste and experience. Catch her at pop-up collaborations with restaurants — in late 2021, she’s been hosting dinners at Gamboge in Lincoln Heights — for such dishes as lort cha (short rice noodles stir-fried with mushrooms), salt and pepper fried shrimp and grilled caramelized pork with spicy citrus fish sauce. instagram.com/khemla

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Kuya Lord

Oxtail kare kare from Kuya Lord
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

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Lord Maynard Llera prepares family-size trays for weekend pickups in La Cañada Flintridge that often include chicken grilled over almond wood, fried pork belly stacked in neat rectangles, jumbles of prawns in crab sauce, garlic rice and noodles. The presentation evokes kamayan, the communal Filipino meals arrayed over banana leaves and eaten by hand. This is food of power and finesse and profound delight. instagram.com/kuyalord_la

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Little Dacha

A lamb and labneh, original, and mushroom and onion khachapuri.
From left to right, a lamb and labneh, original, and mushroom and onion khachapuri.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Emily Efraimov traces her Circassian Russian roots through khinkali (stemmed Georgian dumplings) filled with pig’s head meat, stroganoff made with venison and khachapuri stuffed with spiced lamb, smooth labneh and green chile pickle. Efraimov was at first a one-woman operation, cooking and delivering meals; recently, she veered to cooking at pop-up events in such spaces as Chainsaw in Echo Park and Detroit Veseys downtown.instagram.com/littledacha

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May Microbakery

The top of a cake decorated with fruit, flower petals and pomegranate seeds.
A cake made by Sasha Piligian is decorated with fruit, flower petals and pomegranate seeds.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Star pastry chef Sasha Piligian is a master of the artful cake. The seasonal creations she bakes in Glendale are as poetic in description (“buttermilk lemon Rouge de Bordeaux chiffon, rose hip cream, bay leaf poached quince and maple buttercream”) as they are in edible decoration and flavor. She also makes fantastic pies and pastry boxes with weekly-changing treats. mayprovisions.minimartapp.com/

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Mama Lina Cooks

Swai fish stuffed with spices and crushed walnuts, covered with tahini sauce and topped with toasted pine nuts and walnuts
Samke harra — swai fish stuffed with coriander, garlic, chili and crushed walnuts, covered with tahini sauce and topped with toasted pine nuts and walnuts.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

Chef Lina Georges and her entrepreneur son Fouad assemble rotating menus of Lebanese comfort foods — usually three main dishes of the day available for pickup or delivery on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Whether she makes koussa (zucchini filled with rice and richly spiced ground beef), Lebanese meatballs with caramelized onions and pine nuts or laban emmo (boneless hunks of lamb shank warmed in yogurt sauce and served over rice), it’s succor we could all use these days. instagram.com/mamalinacooks/

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